Last January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a policy address about Internet freedom at the Newseum in D.C. In the address, Sec. Clinton argued that the rise of the Internet and information networks is creating a “new nervous system for our planet”.
The Internet, social networks and the resulting immediacy and reach of information define 21st century statecraft. Understanding this reality and the revolutionary power of these new tools, the State Department is launching initiatives that promote Internet freedom and use new media to connect people and build civic participation.
Speaking at a breakfast earlier this month, Jared Cohen, a member of the State Department’s policy and planning staff, maintained that social media and the “connection technologies” we now use every day are more revolutionary than radio or television when they were introduced. Why? Because, today, the platform is the intermediary. These new technology platforms are game changers. They empower people by connecting them directly to information, other individuals and resources.
Mobile Technology: Eliminating Communication Boundaries
Whether used by Iranian teenagers trying to find the coolest parties or by terrorists from prison cells, mobile technology is an irrefutable connective force in today’s world. In the United States, people are increasingly opting out of landlines in favor of a mobile-only existence. In Afghanistan, police officers in remote or high-risk areas receive automated text notifications on their cell phones when their paychecks are deposited, allowing for a more transparent payroll process.
Social Media: Unleashing the Power of Personal Networks
Social media has incredible potential for mass organization because it allows information to spread organically to individuals’ personal networks. In Egypt, young people are using Facebook to stand up for their political rights and organize strikes nationwide. In Colombia, an unemployed engineer started a Facebook group that eventually put 12 million people on the streets to protest against the FARC, a 40-year old terrorist organization.
Personal Perspectives: Sharing Ideas with the World
Websites like YouTube and Flickr, as well as personal blogs, help share individual perspectives across the world. A cell phone video of Neda Soltani’s murder during Iran protests in June 2009 was uploaded to YouTube by an amateur videographer. The footage made it in front of heads of state within hours of being posted and their rhetoric about the Iranian protests changed as a result.
Access: Providing Information, Even to the Oppressed
Cohen argued that connective technologies make today’s walls porous. Information shared on social networks or through mobile technologies help break down government-imposed barriers. Even in some of the most oppressive situations, Cohen maintained that the current generation of youth has unprecedented tools of empowerment to spread information, organize and get around censorship.
The Aid Process: Increasing Transparency and Collaboration
Twenty-first century statecraft is also unique because the Internet allows individuals to track aid funding and advocate for other people to get involved with a cause. Today’s digital age permits unparalleled opportunities for networking and collaboration between remote individuals and groups.